Who: No. 9 Florida (6-1, 4-1 SEC) vs. No. 7 Georgia (6-1, 4-1)
When: 3:30 p.m.
Where: TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
Vegas line: Georgia by 6.5
All-time series: The two schools dispute a game played in 1904 that Georgia won 52-0. Either way, Georgia leads the series 51-43-2 or 50-43-2. Georgia counts a victory in 1904 and says it leads 51-43-2. Florida insists it didn’t compete at the varsity level until 1906 and calls it 50-43-2.
Last 10 years: It hasn’t quite been like the Steve Spurrier Era (11-1), but Florida has won six of last 10 games played in Jacksonville.
Last time they met: It didn’t go well for the Gators as the Bulldogs scored 21 quick points and rolled to a 42-7 win. The next day, Jim McElwain was fired.
Fun fact: Georgia’s 35-point win last year was an anomaly. From 1998-through-2016, the Bulldogs won five times in the rivalry by a total of 34 points.
What’s at stake?
Quite possibly a spot in the conference title game in Atlanta. The winner of the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” has advanced to the league’s showcase event eight times in the last 12 years. Kentucky still controls its destiny in the Eastern Division, but Florida and Georgia like their chances if they win Saturday. The winner likely will wind up close to the fourth spot in the first edition of the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday. The loser probably can forget about playing for a national championship or getting to Atlanta for the SEC title game.
“If you’re not amped up this game or you’re not excited, you’re screwed up in the head,” Florida guard Tyler Jordan said.
Florida trending up
The Gators are looking to continue what has been a remarkable turnaround under Dan Mullen, who inherited a 4-7 team and already has it in the top 10 at No. 9, UF’s highest ranking since Nov. 15, 2015. Mullen, Josh Heupel (No. 10 UCF), Jimbo Fisher (No. 16 Texas A&M) and Mario Cristobal (No. 19 Oregon) are the only first-year coaches with ranked teams. The Gators are the only team in the current Associated Press poll that finished below .500 a year ago. Of the 21 first-year FBS coaches, Mullen is the only one to have a victory over a Top 5 team (LSU). Mullen is 4-1 against Power Five conference teams, while the other 20 first-year coaches are a combined 20-51.
Lots of one-on-ones
Florida and Georgia are similar on defense in that they like to play a lot of man-to-man coverage in the secondary. So, opportunities are going to be there for the receivers for both teams. Whoever wins the most of these matchups could ultimately determine the outcome of Saturday’s game. The Gators are going to have a difficult time winning one-on-ones against Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker, who leads the SEC in passes defended with 10. He has two interceptions, eight pass break-ups, and rarely gets beat. The Bulldog receivers will be facing a similar challenge from UF cornerback CJ Henderson. This game could come down to who wins the most one-on-ones. “You’ve got to win your one-on-one battles,” Mullen said. “You get the opportunity to make some one-on-one plays, you’ve got to make them.”
Sharing the rock
One thing is certain about this game: the running backs on both teams are going to be running on fresh legs. The Gators have a three-headed running attack in Jordan Scarlett, Lamical Perine and true freshman Dameon Pierce, who is from Georgia. But the Bulldogs can one-up the Gators. They have a four-headed running attack, with Elijah Holyfield, D’Andre Swift, Brian Herrien and true freshman James Cook, who is from Miami, sharing the carries. The four Georgia backs have combined to rush for 1,193 yards and 10 touchdowns, and average 6.1 yards a carry. Florida’s three-headed running back has produced similar results. Scarlett, Perine and Pierce have rushed for 1,052 yards and eight touchdowns and are averaging 6.4 yards a carry. As both teams have shown, fresh legs can make a difference.
• Midway through the first quarter in last season’s game, the Gators already found themselves down 21-0. Will they get off to a better start this time?
• Can the Gators hit some explosive plays (20 yards or longer) against a UGA defense that rarely gives them up?
• Will the Gators continue to have success running the football?
• Can Feleipe Franks and the Florida offense take care of the football, something they failed to do in last year’s 42-7 rout?
• The Bulldogs like to pound the ball in the running game. How does the UF defensive front hold up?
Click back Monday for Andreu’s answers
Georgia 27, Florida 17
(Season record: 4-3)
Florida’s special teams vs. Georgia wide receiver/return specialist Mecole Hardman: Hardman presents a challenge to the UF cover teams that they haven’t faced yet this season — a true game-changer in the return game. Fast and elusive, Hardman is leading the SEC in punt returns, averaging 22.0 yards a return. He had a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown earlier this season against Middle Tennessee State. Hardman was the SEC’s top punt returner last season, averaging 11.8 yards a return. So far this season, the UF cover teams have been sound. The Gators are holding opponents to 7.9 yards per return. This will be their biggest challenge yet. Hardman also is a dangerous kickoff returner when he gets a chance. He’s averaging 26.2 yards on four kickoff returns this season. The Gators are giving up 20.1 yards per return. The plan against Hardman likely will be to drive kickoffs deep into the end zone to prevent him from returning them, and getting good hang time on Tommy Townsend’s punt so the gunners will have a chance to contain him.
Florida’s improving defense against Georgia RBs Elijah Holyfield and D’Andre Swift. Holyfield and Swift have combined for 850 yards rushing and eight touchdowns this season, helping give the Bulldogs the best ground attack in the league. The Gators were gouged early, but have been considerably better in recent weeks.
Players to Watch
Florida: DE Jachai Polite has 8½ tackles for loss, including seven sacks, and has the ability to wreck Georgia’s offensive plan. The Bulldogs have allowed 12 sacks in seven games, but three in a loss at LSU.
Georgia: CB Deandre Baker has 25 tackles, two interceptions and a league-leading 10 pass breakups, and Florida’s Feleipe Franks has a tendency to telegraph throws.
Facts & Figures
First time since 2012 that both teams are ranked entering neutral-site game. First time since 2008 that both teams are ranked in top 10. Florida won that one 49-10. … Georgia has won four of last seven in series. … Seventh time in series history that both teams are coming off bye. … The Gators are 3-0 against Georgia when ESPN “College GameDay” broadcasts from Jacksonville. … Florida coach Dan Mullen went 3-1 against Georgia as Florida’s offensive coordinator (2005-08). … Georgia coach Kirby Smart is 2-5 in the series, winning as a rookie head coach last year, going 1-3 as a player for the Bulldogs (1995-98) and losing as an administrative assistant (1999) and as a running backs coach (2005).
Sun sports columnist Pat Dooley and The Associated Press contributed to this report.